Saturday, October 13, 2012

I don’t like harmonicas very much

It’s true: I don’t really like harps. They are too fragile and too expensive. They are too delicate to work on; at least I do not have the dexterity or patience required for that. I don’t get excited when I see a vintage harp or a custom harp or a big collection of harps. Harmonicas are pretty much a pain in the neck. Honestly.

I don’t play because I like harps… I play because I love the sound they make when played well. If I could make that sound with another instrument I would do it. Sure, harps are handy and portable if you want to carry one around, but so what? You need a collection of at least 12 harps that you are constantly fixing or tweaking or replacing. It never ends.

What gets me excited is hearing them played well in the blues context, either acoustically (Tom Ball, Hans Olson, many others) or amped (Gary Primich, Gary Smith, many others). That is what does it for me. I like amps and mics and all the other accoutrement that go along with harps. I just don’t like harps.

I know there will be some who will claim they have harps that have lasted them YEARS and I must be doing it wrong. No, let’s dismiss that right away. I know several pro players and I’ve asked them about this. They all blow out harps, some more quickly than others. Gary Smith says we destroy them a little every time we play them. If you bend reeds they eventually fatigue.

Given all the shortcomings of harmonicas – the temperamental nature and stigma and expense and on and on – it is remarkable we become so dedicated to them for so long, for all of our lives. For me it is the tone. That’s it.

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